In the latest in our “Other Half” series, writer BELINDA STRAHORN talks to Nichole Overall, wife of Queanbeyan Mayor Tim Overall.
WHEN Nichole Overall, 49, was a girl, she envisioned lots of future versions of herself: microbiologist Nichole, first Australian female prime minister Nichole…
But mayor’s wife Nichole never entered her imagination. And yet here she is – a journalist, historian, author, “CityNews” columnist, true-crime podcaster, and for the last 24 years, the wife of the Mayor of Queanbeyan.
“It’s just one of the many things that have evolved along the winding, interesting road of life,” Nichole said.
She stirred her cappuccino and looked out through the steamed-up windows of the Queanbeyan Golf Club.
It’s peaceful here. Along the walls are trophies and decades-old photos of club champions, the pictures getting grainier and the hair bigger the further you go back in time. Outside, a mob of kangaroos sprawl listlessly over the glistening greens.
It’s a special place for Nichole, whose links with Queanbeyan are well established.
The city will always be dear to her, it’s where she met her husband, chose to raise their two sons and where she feels every inch the local.
“This is quintessential Queanbeyan, the kangaroos, the community, the river is just down there… it’s a magical place,” she said.
While Queanbeyan has provided an ideal setting in which to raise her family, Nichole’s own childhood in Griffith was less rosy.
“Dad had issues with alcohol, the family home was violent; we had no money and mum wound up a single mum of three small children by the time she was 25,” said Nichole.
Her body stiffened; it became clearly evident she was uncomfortable discussing this period of her life.
“Things were tough,” she said.
“One strong memory that has stayed with me was my father telling me I would never amount to anything.
“And yet I remember thinking to myself, no, I will amount to something, I will do something with my life.”
That she did.
The first person in her family to attend university, Nichole left home for Canberra at 18 to study journalism.
Coming from Griffith she felt Queanbeyan would be more like home than Canberra.
“Canberra was a big city and I was a little country girl,” she said.
“I felt more comfortable living in the environment that Queanbeyan offered; I’m still here, more than 30 years later.”
Upon graduating, she cut her journalistic teeth with the “Tumut and Adelong Times”.
Some years later – having moved back to Queanbeyan – with nothing more than $500 to her name and a burning desire to establish her own business, she started “The Entertainer”, a showbiz magazine, serving as owner-editor.
It was around this time, at a party in Queanbeyan, that she met her future husband Tim Overall. He was chief of the NSW Ambulance Service and living in Sydney at the time.
Notwithstanding the fact that Tim came from a well-known family with strong links to Canberra’s planning, what struck her most about him was his kindness.
“He’s a lovely, warm man,” Nichole said.
“He’s attentive and he’s interested in people and I found that very attractive.”
They dated for a short time before a marriage proposal was made.
Never one to miss an opportunity, Nichole didn’t wait for Tim to ask, she got in first, floating the idea while he was driving through Sydney.
“I just blurted it out: ‘How about getting married then?’,” she said.
“He didn’t answer me at first because he thought I was joking, but he accepted. We married at the Catholic church in Tumut not long after and this year we celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary.”
Tim and Nichole’s life was no different to other young couples raising a family in Queanbeyan.
They both held down interesting jobs, Tim with the ACT Red Cross and Nichole a real estate agent for a time.
While politics was not on the horizon for them then, once Tim was elected to Queanbeyan City Council in 2004, and certainly when he became mayor in 2008, Nichole was there to support him.
As the wife of the mayor, she is given all sorts of interesting titles including “Lady Mayoress” and the “First Lady of Queanbeyan”.
Nichole takes it all in her stride, not taking herself too seriously, but the obligations of the role are not lost on her.
“It’s a great compliment to be the mayor’s wife, I am very happy to be there to be seen as supporting him in what he’s doing, it’s a huge privilege,” she said.
Of course, with holding public office, you must take the rough with the smooth, sometimes people are unfair with their judgements, but you learn not to personalise any criticism, she said.
“We don’t see what we do as a chore or a job or a stepping stone, our commitment has always been to Queanbeyan,” she said.
“If you do the right thing by the Queanbeyan community, they do the right thing by you.”
Putting her love for journalism on hold while she raised her children, Nichole resumed her passion for unearthing interesting stories once the kids were at school.
One of her largest conquests was writing and producing “Queanbeyan: City of Champions”, a coffee-table history book that revealed some fascinating stories about a city lost under its “struggle-town” persona.
“Not many people know Queanbeyan was one of the earliest regional townships in European Australia and at one point the wealthiest district in the colony of NSW.”
Growing up in Griffith in the 1970s exposed Nichole to multicultural Australia at an early age, where the largely Italian expatriate population meant her Anglo-sounding name was the odd one out.
“I attended the Catholic high school and in our year group of 120 students there was one Jones, one Brown and one Smith…that was me, Nichole Smith,” she chuckled.
An interesting sideline to growing up in Griffith was that the family lived down the road from Donald Mackay, an aspiring local politician and anti-drug campaigner, who mysteriously disappeared in 1977, an event that was later to spark the young Nichole’s interest in media and journalism.
Perhaps her greatest passion of late has been covering the unsolved murders of Canberra’s Keren Rowland, Elizabeth Herfort and Mary Bertram, with her Capital Crime Files podcast gaining a growing audience.
Having immersed herself in crime makes her more aware of the fragility of the human condition, she said.
“No one expected Keren Rowland to run out of fuel, get picked up and then be found dead in suburban Canberra with a population of 150,000 in 1971,” Nichole said.
“Whilst we would like the real world to be perfect, it’s not, and we need to be mindful of that.”
As if her plate isn’t full enough, Nichole throws her weight behind a number of worthy causes including chair of Headspace Queanbeyan, patron of Molonglo Support Services and the first female chair (in its 65-year history) of St Edmund’s College.
Not one to let the grass grow under her feet, she is also leaving open the possibility of pursuing public office down the track.
“But if I wanted to take a step like that it wouldn’t be at the local government level and I’d like to be an independent candidate because I’m rather inclined to speak my mind,” she said.
For someone who clearly thrives on a challenge, at 40, Nichole took up soccer, proving it’s never too late to try new things.
Of course on the sporting field, no quarter is given, everyone is equal.
Nichole’s teammates and opponents cut her no slack, and that’s just the way she likes it.
“The only time I don’t like being referred to as mayoress is on the football field,” she said.
“Out there, I’m just Nichole.”